With the holiday season approaching, the San Mateo Police Department is encouraging visitors to downtown San Mateo and other shopping centers to be aware of potential thefts and take proper precautions.
“The holiday season presents some very unique challenges when it comes to safety, especially as it applies to theft and property crimes,” San Mateo Police Chief Ed Barberini said.
Speaking at a Nov. 10 San Mateo Real Talk police event about retail thefts in San Mateo, Officer Michael Nguyen, an officer who covers the downtown beat, said thieves are often attracted to parking garages and cars that have visible items and encouraged people to report any suspicious activity. The Real Talk event allowed residents to ask questions and get advice about preventing retail and property thefts during the holiday season.
“This is the season where a lot of people are shopping, having fun and exploring the downtown area, but often we leave some of our belongings in our car for convenience, and it’s visible,” Nguyen said. “That is often a sign for groups or even individuals looking to commit thefts.”
Robert Anderson is a retired police officer and a member of the Downtown San Mateo Association Board of Directors. The organization is a business merchant association that works to help businesses with various issues. Anderson said the holiday season is one of the busiest times of year for downtown and can create circumstances for potential thefts. Anderson said San Mateo is safe, but car break-ins are the most likely thing to happen downtown. Anderson said a man he knew left a briefcase in his car for 10 minutes downtown and had his windows smashed and the briefcase stolen.
“If you are going to become a victim of a crime in San Mateo or downtown, probably the biggest thing is from a vehicle,” Anderson said.
Anderson said the stores most targeted downtown include jewelry and eyeglass stores. Most thieves operate in teams and have someone distract the owner while another steals. Anderson said he advises stores to not overload the storefront window with many displays and to have cameras. He noted the San Mateo Police Department caught a jewel thief who stole from jewelry stores after identifying him through good video cameras.
“If it weren’t for that good video camera, it would have been very difficult to apprehend them,” Anderson said.
Peter Lee, a security director for the Hillsdale Shopping Center, said thefts are primarily smash-and-grabs from groups that result in a lot of stolen property. Since July, Officer Alison Gilmore said a Victoria’s Secret store at Hillsdale has been hit around 20 times and lost approximately $160,000 in merchandise, with the biggest take of about $22,000. Officer Carmen Chice said police coordinated efforts with Hillsdale security, the Victoria’s Secret store and the California Highway Patrol to gather data and surveillance photos. Chice said the result has been successful, identifying several suspects and cars involved in the organized retail thefts.
San Mateo police have also launched a new catalytic converter theft prevention program by placing an ultra-destruct sticker with a serial number on a cold catalytic converter. When the engine is heated, the metal etching fluid is etched onto it and registered in a database, allowing law enforcement to trace the converter if it is stolen and later recovered. The first 500 San Mateo residents can participate in the free program starting Nov. 14, with hopes to make more kits available later. Barberini said he hopes the program and new state laws that restrict who can buy and sell catalytic converts will have a significant impact.
“We are hoping to put a pretty big dent in what we see when it comes to these types of thefts,” Barberini said.
People can go to cityofsanmateo.org/4686/Catalytic-Converter-Theft-Prevention-Pro for more information about the program.